Photo by William Hook, feature photo by Jorge Quinteros

Goods Associate Editor Michelle Schusterman rounds up her top 25 free iPhone apps that travelers, writers and bloggers might find useful.

I’ve been reviewing iPhone apps steadily for the last year, everything from blogging and writing apps to games that make me realize just how many developers must smoke crack. I must love them, because even while I’m drowning in apps, I’m designing one of my own.

I believe that apps are like any other product – you get what you pay for. I’ve tried at least five free (and popular) flight apps, for example, and if they crashed repeatedly or had bug issues, they didn’t make the list. But every once in awhile I stumble across an app so kick ass I can’t believe it’s free. If you’re a traveler, writer, or just an iPhone junkie with an addiction to free downloads, check out my 25 favorite free apps.

Travel Preparation

Expedia

Even if you aren’t a registered Expedia user, you can use this app as a guest. Thank you, Expedia, for not making me go through the lengthy registration I’ve dealt with on other travel apps. Find your flight, set email and text notification for changes – it’s not perfect, but it works and it’s free.

Southwest

Worth it just to get the auto-notifications of deals for flights leaving your local airport. Easy to use, maybe a tiny bit slow but I’ve never had a problem with crashes or bugs.

Hotels

Not to be confused with Hotel.com’s app, which is nothing but a link to their website. Hotels opens up to a map of you with pinpoints in all the hotels surrounding you.

The points will either say “full” or have a price estimate for available rooms. You can also book in-app, which I’ve honestly never tried, but it’s hella useful just to locate hotels.

Pack Free

I love this one, and I’m really not much for to-do lists. You can categorize items (gadgets, toiletries) and tap to add them to a list for your next trip. Great for scatter-brained folks like me who go out to buy toothpaste and suddenly think “Bring business cards!” Just add them to your list for later.

Getting There and Getting Around

Point Inside

Definitely on my “holy shit this is free?!” list. Find an airport (or mall) on the app and download an amazingly detailed map of said airport, complete with search function, to use when you aren’t on 3G or wi-fi. In other words, find a gate, a shuttle or a restroom in the airport before your plane has even landed. Great stuff.

Gate Guru

After a quick email registration, this app locates the nearest airport (or allows you to choose) and lets you search for food, restrooms, shops and gates by category. You can also rate, write and read reviews in-app.

Hostel Hero

No frills or fuss here. Pick a location, enter your arrival info, sort hostels by name or price. Tap to get info, pictures, a map and directions, or to book in-app. Fantastic application.

WHERE

I think I use this app more than the Maps app that comes installed on the iPhone. Occasionally it leads me astray, but overall it’s seriously helpful. Enter what you’re looking for – Thai food, library, Radio Shack, burlesque theater – and WHERE pulls up a list of what’s closest, complete with maps and directions.

World Customs & Cultures

Even if you aren’t traveling, this one is fun to toy around with. Choose a country and read ideas on their greetings, personal space, gender issues, taboos and more. An impressive amount of info at no cost.

The Weather Channel

The iPhone comes with a weather app, but it gives very little detail. Open it, let it locate you and you’ve got your current, hourly, 36 hour and 10 day forecast ready to go. There’s also an icon just for severe weather alerts – and if you miss that smooth soundtrack that comes with watching The Weather Channel on TV, just tap “video” and you’ve got it.

Wi-Fi Finder

Wi-Fi Finder, how do I love thee, let me count the ways… It just works so well, pinpointing all the locations around you with public wi-fi (green for free, blue for pay). Tap one to get an address, directions, the provider, even the SSID, and add it to your favorites.

Writing, Blogging and Photography

WordPress

Blogging from a phone isn’t exactly ideal, but having the ability to toss up the occasional short post while you’re out can help you continue adding content. I used it on my road trip from Texas to Washington earlier this year and was quite happy with it.

PayPal

Because if you write full-time online, PayPal overtakes your regular bank as Most Frequently Used Account. This app is plain and simple – check your balance, see transactions, make transfers, all in-app.

SodaSnap

I’m constantly harassing friends and family with pics emailed from my phone when I come across a great view or something cool. In about ten extra seconds, SodaSnap lets me set up my shot like a postcard, complete with a message, and send it via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Dropbox

If you didn’t purchase MobileMe but think the concept is cool, check out Dropbox. Download the program free, which creates a special 2BG folder on your computer. Download the app, and voila – everything in the folder is viewable from your iPhone. So many ways this could be useful.

WriteChain

From dieting to writing, keeping track of what you’ve accomplished can be a good motivational tool. WriteChain is a very simple app that lets you set a daily word count goal for yourself. Open the app and enter your word count for the day. Your goal is to not break the chain – each time you enter a session, it’s added as a link to your chain to help keep you going.

Wikipanion

It is, in my opinion, the best way to browse Wikipedia on your iPhone. And it’s free.

Reading

Stanza

So many reasons this is my favorite e-reader app. Maybe it’s the obvious care that went into the design, despite the lack of price tag. Maybe it’s the annotation feature, or the extreme customization level of the reader itself. Maybe it’s the 50,000 free e-book downloads from Project Gutenberg. One of the best freebies I’ve ever downloaded.

Kindle

No iPad? Head for the competition. Amazon’s Kindle app lets your browse, preview, purchase and read books in-app. Choose from three different text/background colors to customize, and purchasing a book from your Amazon account is done with just a tap. For purchasing and reading books on your phone, this is a good app.

Goodreads

What now? You aren’t on Goodreads? This is social networking for book geeks at its best; share and review books, compare prices, find and reserve books from your local library, connect with others reading similar books – and now, thanks to their free app, you can do all this on your iPhone as well.

Social Networking

Skype

A given, but I couldn’t exclude it. Skype is made of awesome.

TweetDeck

So many Twitter apps out there – I’ve tried quite a few, and this is the only one that’s stuck it out. Other than Mail and Maps, I probably use this more than any other app. If you’re a TweetDeck user, the set up is identical. Love it.

[Insert empty space for Facebook app here, which I’ve tried multiple times, multiple versions, multiple downloads, and have not yet successfully updated my status without the app crashing]
Bump

I felt stupidly cool the first time I used this app. Open, choose what contact info (phone number, email, photo, etc) you want to share, then “bump” your iPhone against another (also running Bump). Your info is swapped, as smooth as slipping someone a business card.

pownum

“Power in numbers,” in case you were wondering about that name. Thrilled or ticked about customer service? Find the place in-app, rate it, review it, read what others are saying about it. Venting aside, it’s a much more constructive way of warning others not to visit that awful cafe than throwing your all-foam latte on the floor in protest.

Vopium

Make a lot of international calls? This VoIP style app looks just like your iPhone’s keyboard, but uses the 3G or wi-fi network to make international calls and send SMS at a fraction of the cost. The app is free and there’s a 15 minute + 15 free SMS trial, but after that the account will cost you. Check it out if you call overseas frequently.